Can a Vegan Woman Love a Meat-Eating Man?

He’s smart and strong, beautiful and brave, kind-hearted and…carnivorous.

At the dawn of a relationship, any faux pas is sufficient grounds for termination – far better to wield a blunt axe than be blinded by short-lived charms. Certain obvious criteria warrant immediate demotion from maybe-boyfriend to totally-not-lustable such as: ignorant homophobic, racist, or sexist slip-ups; failure to exhibit kindness and humanity to baristas, waiters, and people otherwise employed in the service industry; too-liberal use of ‘emoticons’ in emails, gratuitous text messages, or other similar demands on your time and patience all come to mind. Not to be too specific.

But what if the fellow is smart and strong, beautiful and brave, and an all-around incredible, kind-hearted individual? It’s this juncture of clear, mutual attraction where questions of ethics and their long-term implications make dating a stickier, less cut-and-dried issue altogether. Namely, can a principled vegan woman find it within herself to fall for a meat-eating man? Marinate on that a minute.

Let’s say you unequivocally believe that meat is murder. Now, imagine somehow reconciling that firm, clear conviction with a well-mannered, scintillating conversationalist with whom you’re on a date with at a new French restaurant who, along with a tastefully-selected bottle of Bordeaux, just ordered the foie gras starter and veal main.

As a no-turning-back vegetarian since my teenage years, I’ve never taken a long-term lover whose moral and philosophical compass regarding animal rights and welfare didn’t approximate my own. Were any of these shy and smiling boys so inclined from the outset of our relationship? No, absolutely not. But they were uniformly intelligent, curious creatures with the good sense to reexamine their ethical presuppositions and accordingly recalibrate their practical, day-to-day affairs to reflect an evolving value system.

My mission to change the hearts and minds of carnivores one-guy-at-a-time? Accomplished. Well, perhaps not quite. After breaking up, all but one, lone ex-boyfriend shortly, summarily abandoned his conscientious ways in favor of fried chicken. Gross. Hey, what better way to work out some breakup angst than to stick a fork in it? Revenge, for some, may be a dish best served medium-rare.

Older-and-wiser is perhaps the surest and truest of clichés. Age endows us (or should endow us) with the willingness to hold a magnifying glass to our  own shortcomings, frankly examining how we all can be selfish and small, prideful and petty.

This is easier said than done. In the lofty words of essayist Brillat Savarin: “There can be no warm, rich home-life anywhere else if it does not exist at the table; and in the same way there can be no enduring family happiness, no real marriage, if  a man and woman cannot open themselves generously and without suspicion one to the other over a shared bowl of soup as well as a shared caress.”

Food, from an arugula plant photosynthesizing the sun’s energy, to the farm worker who harvests the leaves, to the intimacy of a couple collaborating in the kitchen to prepare a lavish green salad, is greater than a preference for taste. Its preparation and consumption is a radical, sensual act encompassing everything from environmental sustainability to immigrant labor rights. This is to say nothing of animal welfare.

As much as a man’s virtues and joie de vivre might make my heart sing, I simply cannot conceive of spending my life – much less creating a family – with someone who chooses to overlook the implications of his morning bacon and eggs.

Love isn’t the exclusive domain of romantic partnership. Love is a choice about how you will show up in the world. Love drives my opposition to the death-penalty in America; it governs my decision to ride a bicycle rather than drive a car; and it motivates me to extend equal consideration of interest to animals. I am an animal. I am also an animal who doesn’t eat other animals.

Female animal seeks male animal who doesn’t eat animals. (Must also possess athletic build, international sensibility, and fulfilling career that makes him happy.)

Worst personal ad of all time? Maybe. Or it’s honest and realistic: the foundation of a sustainable relationship based on a commitment to common values.

A man and woman who can companionably, conscientiously dine together – not to mention cook, host festive dinner parties for friends, and indulge in regular postprandial love-making – stay together. As Brillat Savarin said, “Happiness at the table leads to happiness in bed.” And, with that, Guten appetit.

First published in EcoSalon on Wednesday, June 29, 2011. Image by Bolshakov.

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4 thoughts on “Can a Vegan Woman Love a Meat-Eating Man?

  1. At this point I don’t think that I could fall in love with a new man who wasn’t at least vegetarian. I eat an almost vegan diet. However, I am married to a careless omnivore…he’ll eat anything and everything as long as it tastes good to him with no regard to quality of production. I was omnivore too when we met and married, and I’m the one who changed. It’s hard every day preparing meals at home because our preferences are so different. I would not recommend merging with someone who differs on something so fundamental as food. It’s an issue every day…2 or 3 times a day.

    1. It sounds like you’re having such struggle. How long ago did you shift toward a more plant-based diet? What was your impetus? Animal welfare? Health? The toll exacted on the environment from factory farming? Likely, a combination of all these reasons! Have you talked frankly and earnestly with your husband about your moral and ethical reasons for transitioning into a different engagement with food? It sounds like he’ll eat “everything,” so long as it’s not vegetarian? I wonder why he is so resistant? What sorts of things are you preparing? I’m sorry to hear about your challenges and thank you for writing! One of my friends wrote in response to this article that I’m a fool who is severely restricting the potential for meeting somebody with common values–I think that’s patently false, as 14-percent of Americans report being vegetarian-leaning, and it seems like just a little heart-felt conversation about the larger implications that somebody would be willing to give up selfish taste (because, at the end of the day, that’s all the meat is to people) in the face of making a simple choice that advances positive change in the world. I think one thing you might suggest to your husband is a “Meatless Monday,” a movement that started in the UK and that public schools even in the states are beginning to implement. It’s a way to acknowledge–just one day a week–the powerful impact that a vegetarian diet can have to help the planet, our bodies, and our communities. Keep me updated on what works–maybe veganizing some of his favorite meat-based dishes? Again, I wish you much luck! xxo, abs

  2. Thx for your reply, Abs! I’ve been vegetarian then vegan for 5 years or so….we’ve been married 10. My impetus was first animal welfare after reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma then it became a spiritual choice after reading The World Peace Diet and hearing Dr. Tuttle speak. My husband is very aware of the foundation and progression of my choice and completely supports it for me, however, he doesn’t see it the way I do for himself. I very rarely buy meat for the house anymore (for hubby or child) so we’re all eating basically vegetarian meals (I skip some ingredients and eat mostly vegan) yet whenever we eat out, he orders meat without fail. He doesn’t like beans and isn’t a great vegetable lover, so making vegetarian or vegan meals that he’ll eat is a challenge. Toss in my child’s pickiness and we’re eating three different meals!! It seems crazy, but it works for us. Perhaps in time, habits and preferences will change. I’ve learned that people don’t mind changing, they just don’t like being changed. Our daughter is young and I’m reluctant to expose her to the harsh cruelties of industrialized animal foods. When I buy dairy and eggs, I get raw goats milk cheese, local yard chicken eggs and local raw milk. The animal products that I do bring into the house I try to find the kindest version possible….but there is nothing kind about dead flesh no matter how the animal was raised or killed, in my opinion. If I can get my hub and kid to like beans, nut cheeses, nut milks, and more veggies, we could be on to something beautiful! I’m not a big fan of tofu, so am not purchasing “fake meat” substitutes. I was a health food nut before vegetarian or vegan, so I’m hitting all the criteria for improvement all around. If it were up to me, we’d all be eating mostly raw, however, I need to become a MUCH better chef! I’d like to know that what I prepare would actually be tried, let alone eaten/consumed and enjoyed before putting that much time into a meal that I’ll more than likely eat alone and still need to prepare their meals (with their help, of course).

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